Skin cancer can be a deadly condition, but when caught early, the chances of survival are very high. One of the best tools in a dermatologist’s arsenal for catching skin cancer early is the full-body skin exam. At Affiliated Dermatology, we recommend everyone is examined once a year. Many of our patients have questions about what’s involved in a skin exam, so we’ve put together this guide to help you better understand the process.

What is a Full-Body Skin Exam?

A full-body skin exam is a comprehensive examination of the skin. A dermatologist or other healthcare provider will look over your entire body to check for signs of skin cancer or other skin conditions. This visual inspection of your skin will thoroughly cover often neglected areas such as the scalp, behind the ears, under the arms, and between the toes. Because of the importance of catching skin cancer early, a full-body skin exam can make a crucial difference in health outcomes. Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the world. Early detection increases the chances of successful treatment. This is especially true for melanoma, which is one of the most deadly forms of skin cancer. During a thorough full-body skin exam, skin cancer isn’t the only ailment that can be detected. Eczema, psoriasis, and skin infections can also be identified during the exam. Although these conditions are much less serious than skin cancer, early detection and treatment still lead to the best outcome.

Why Does Your Doctor Do a Full-Body Skin Exam?

Despite being a deadly form of cancer, the odds of surviving melanoma are extremely good if it’s caught early enough. The same is true for other skin cancers. Therefore, the most common reason for a full-body exam is to detect and treat the cancers early. Some conditions, such as actinic keratosis, can be precursors to cancer. Actinic keratosis causes the skin to become scaly after prolonged exposure to the sun. Catching these types of conditions before they become cancer can stave off the threat entirely. Annual full-body skin exams also give your dermatologist a complete picture of how your skin’s health has changed. By tracking these changes, doctors can better understand your skin’s overall condition and make more informed decisions regarding treatments. Although everyone should be examined once a year, it’s especially important for those with the following risk factors:
  • History of unusual moles
  • Tanning bed use
  • More than 50 moles
  • A suspicious-looking mole
  • Blonde or red hair
  • Light eye color
  • Skin that freckles or sunburns easily
  • Family history of melanoma
  • Personal history of sunburns

What Happens During a Full-Body Skin Exam?

Although thorough, the process of a full-body skin exam is straightforward. Because it’s a full-body exam, you’ll first be asked to undress and wear a medical gown. The doctor will uncover only the body part they’re working on. The doctor will examine your skin from head to toe with the gown on. They’ll go over every part of the body, taking time to more closely examine any questionable areas. For certain lesions, the dermatologist may use a tool called a dermatoscope for a closer look. This handheld imaging device can provide a closer look than the naked eye alone. The doctor will record any notable moles or lesions for comparison with future full-body skin exams during the examination. For highly-suspicious areas, the doctor may perform a biopsy to check for cancer.

How Long Will the Exam Take?

The exact length of the exam depends on several factors. Your skin type, the number of moles or lesions that need to be checked and documented, and the need for biopsies all factor in how long the procedure lasts. For most people, the process will be over in 10-30 minutes.

Schedule a Skin Check With a Dermatologist Today

Now that you’ve seen what’s involved in a full-body skin exam and why it’s a good idea to have them performed regularly, we invite you to contact our office and schedule yours.   Image Credit: Wavebreakmedia, Shutterstock